by Alyssa Cowell, The Catoctin School of Music
With so many of us spending more time at home, we have more time than ever for practicing music. How is your music practice holding up as we enter another week of quarantine and social distancing? Here are a few practice ideas for those of us who are feeling a little stuck or need a change to refresh our practice habits:
Review your letters on the staff! Spend a little time on musictheory.net or other note identification resources to practice reading your letter names on the staff quickly and accurately. If your practice feels stale or slow, it might be that you’re not recalling your letter names easily. Confidently identifying letters on the staff means reading faster and choosing the right notes when sightreading – music is always more fun when you feel like you know what you are doing! Set aside 10 minutes a day for a week to work on naming those notes and see if you have an easier time playing those notes!
Read your music away from your instrument: How often do you look at your music without playing it at the same time? I’m guessing the answer is: ]“rarely, if ever.” Grab your sheet music and sit somewhere quiet to really take the time to read the music like you read a book. Start looking for patterns in the music – chord progressions, intervals, rhythmic patterns, articulation, dynamics – and see how they repeat throughout the song. Looking at the ‘big picture’ may help you understand why it’s important to master specific fingering or phrasing as it is repeated throughout. Reading your music away from your instrument compels you to study the music and not feel tempted to noodle on the instrument absent mindedly – fewer distractions from really learning your piece!
Take some time to listen to your song: Rekindle your interest in a piece by listening to another artist perform the same song. Is there a version of your piece recorded by an accomplished musician on the internet? Probably! Spend some time looking for your piece and listening to how it will sound when it’s ready to perform. Take time to notice the little details in the performance and think about how much time the performer put into perfecting their technique. Now go practice!
Do practice sprints instead of marathons: An hour of daily practice with your instrument can be tough to build into a daily routine. Practice for 10 minutes on a few measures and then go do something else! Take those 10 minutes and try seeing how many times you can play those few measures in quick succession. See if you can do them 100% perfectly up to speed by the end of the 10 minutes. Spend those 10 minutes on dynamics/expression/musicality. Spend those 10 minutes making sure your technique is Just Right. See if you can schedule a few of these 10-minute super-focused sessions a day and see the progress really start to build up!
Change the scenery: Do you have an instrument that is portable? Practice in a different room or even in the yard! Practice near an open window (weather allowing) to share music with your neighbors. The possibility of even an informal audience will help you to be more mindful of your playing.